If you had a billion dollars

There were two separate calls today for the creation of two separate $1 billion trust funds:

  • A US Council on Foreign Relations task force published a report In the Wake of War: Improving U.S. Post-Conflict Capabilities which calls for the U.S. to push to create a $1 billion multilateral reconstruction Trust Fund to pay for the costs of nation-building (or ‘stabilization and reconstruction’ as it is known in the Pentagon).  
  • UK International Development Secretary Hilary Benn has called for a $1 billion emergency fund to tackle humanitarian crises, like that currently afflicting Niger, because the current system by which countries make contributions to respond to emergencies "doesn’t work". 

A couple of things occur to me about this coincidence:

  • What make governments too slow and inflexible to find money quickly if is needed to address short term need like these?  These governments have ready access to capital markets, so there is no intrinsic reason why they should not be able to fund these emergencies as and when they occur. Removing any obstacles to doing so would be a much more cost-effective use of taxpayers’ money than setting aside money in an array of trust funds.  Should we also have separate trust funds to deal with things like outbreaks of infectious diseases or international economic instability? Surely it is better for governments to deal with these unforseen costs when they arise.
  • My guess is that the US proposal for a "nation building" fund – that is, to give contracts to the likes of Halliburton and Bechtel – will be the beneficiary of more political momentum than the UK proposal to provide emergency assistance to the likes of starving people in  Niger. If so, that is a sorry reflection of our values and priorities.

1 thought on “If you had a billion dollars”

  1. Quite take your point about these trust funds. Silly idea. To answer the original question, what to do with $1 billion? As in the X-prize and some of what Bill Gates is doing with vaccines, create a prize fund.
    Space elevator. First people to demonstrate convincingly the technology to build one. Over the long term the best use of $1 billion possible. Cheap access to the solar system.

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